Educators concerned after DESE decides not to distribute free COVID tests this fall
CHICOPEE, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - The future of COVID-19 testing was discussed at Tuesday’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education board meeting. Now, local educators are reacting to news that the state will no longer provide free COVID-19 tests to school districts beginning in the fall.
We spoke with the president of the Chicopee Education Association who said that while she is disappointed by the announcement, she is not surprised and hopes that her district will receive the support they need to keep kids in the classroom.
“It makes me angry, it makes me discouraged, it makes me frustrated that he’s not developing a plan, strategy, or especially support for districts like Chicopee,” Chicopee Education Association President Laura Demakis told us.
On Tuesday morning, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley announced to the DESE board that the state will no longer provide free COVID-19 testing to school districts next academic year.
“The Department of Public Health and DESE strongly recommend that schools and districts interested in continuing implementation of their own testing program do so, but they limit that program to symptomatic rapid testing only,” Commissioner Riley said.
He added that self-testing will continue through the summer, but will go away in the fall when the Department of Public Health and DESE will recommend limiting the program to symptomatic, rapid tests, something Demakis said makes no sense.
“You’re allowing it in the summer and doing it through the summer, but the windows are open, the class sizes are a quarter of a size, COVID isn’t rampant right now, but then you’re gonna take it away?” Demakis said.
She told Western Mass News the lack of funding and support is an added weight to school districts disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
“High demographics of color, high definitions of poverty, more than anywhere else, and that is Chicopee and that is Springfield and that is a lot of other districts,” Demakis said. “Those districts are the ones who are going to struggle with the learning, and the substitutes, and all of that, more.”
The struggles will be difficult, especially considering how she has seen the pandemic affect learning and staffing.
“There have been weeks that we were missing 5, 6, 7 kids in a class for a week at a time,” she told us. “They’re now missing all that learning, and now, there’s nothing to help them make that up.”
DESE officials said schools and districts can still purchase self-tests for next school year through a statewide contract.
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